Catalogue of the Aksumite Coins in the British
By Stuart Munro-Hay.
Published by British Museum Press, 1999. 47
pages and 69 plates. ¥65.
Until ten years ago, the British Museum collection of Aksumite coins was
modest, containing only 100 coins. In 1989 the museum purchased the
collection of 552 coins built up by Roger Brereton while he was living in
Ethiopia. This presented the opportunity for a catalogue and it is a
pleasure to welcome this volume to set beside publications of other
collections, like that of Munro-Hay’s own in 1986. Initially expected in
1995, its publication has been delayed, apparently by difficulties with the
plates, and the bibliography includes no entries after 1995.
After a general introduction (with map), bibliography and outline chronology
comes the catalogue proper followed by the plates. It would have been useful
to include a table of the Ge‘ez alphabet.
Using the same type numbers as the standard work Aksumite Coinage by
Munro-Hay and Juel-Jensen (henceforth AC), the catalogue provides concise
descriptions of each type whether present in the museum collection or not.
Each BM coin is given a unique number and its accession number, weight and
die axis are provided with notes on varieties, especially the symbols on the
later coins (though these are not all noted and it is worth checking the
plates and AC for further varieties). It is a pity that provenance and
previous publications are not included; nor is there a history of the
collection. So for BM 20, the unique large copper of Aphilas, the heaviest
Aksumite coin known, while the accession number tells us it arrived at the
BM in 1873 we must turn to Aksumite Coinage to discover that it was first
published by Prideaux in 1884. The Brereton coins are identifiable from
their 1989 accession numbers. 24 forgeries (all but one ex Brereton) are
All coins are well illustrated on the plates at x2 magnification. This is
the most important section of the book. There are long runs of the copper
coins (including 162 of the first anonymous type, 83 of the second and 58 of
Armah) and while this occasionally includes a very worn specimen, it does
make available to students illustrations of many different dies. Some of the
types not represented in the BM are illustrated from specimens in the
Juel--Jensen collection; the unique gold of Wazeba in the BibliothÉque
Nationale, Paris, is also illustrated (curiously at x1).
There are only a few slips in the text. On p.14 the tiny gold piece of
Aphilas is described as a one-sixteenth piece rather than a one-eighth. In
the catalogue: type 11 obverse should be as type 10 not type 9; type 63
variety should not have an additional CA at the end of the obverse legend;
for type 88 the reverse legends of BM 403 and 404 are not clearly described;
types 122 and 123 are reversed re AC; for type 144 the second Ge‘ez B in the
reverse legend should be a Ge‘ez H. Some slips in AC are perpetuated: for
type 144 the reverse legend should be translated ¬Mercy (not Peace) to the
people¼ ; for type 148-9 a Ge‘ez Y is omitted from the reverse legend. Some
references to the Juel-Jensen collection are incorrect: for type 57i J-J 382
should be 314 or 316; for type 66 J-J 300 should be 380.
There are more significant slips on the plates. 58 is not of type 39
(perhaps rather 42); 74 and 75 are transposed; obverse and reverse are
transposed for 4,9, 27, 42,49, 70, 382 and many of the forgeries; many of
the latest coins are wrongly orientated.
This is a handsomely produced, though slim, volume. It is expensive and
general readers will get better value for money from AC. For the Aksumite
specialist, however, this BM catalogue is a must, especially for its plates.